The First Rule of Beginning a Story . . .

. . . don’t start with strangers bashing each other in the mouth or the nuts or anywhere else. “[I]f you plunge instantly into the action, you risk losing the reader,” writes Damon Knight in Creating Short Fiction. “It is hard to take much interest in absolute strangers, no matter how enthusiastically they may be bashing each other.”

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules of Write Club, as Chuck Palahniuk demonstrates in the opening of Fight Club:

fight 2Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die. For a long time though, Tyler and I were best friends. People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden.

Why does this beginning work, though the narrator has a gun shoved in his mouth in the hook? (Also note the comma splice. Does that work for you? Why? I like it; it speeds the beginning, alerts you to the roller coaster ride you are about to begin, and tells you you’re about to get your nose bloodied, or worse, much, much worse.) I think Palahniuk’s beginning works, because, if you are like me, you’re suddenly asking who is this person who gets you a job then shoves a gun in your mouth? What kind of psycho is this? It raises suspense.

But Knight is probably right. You have to begin a story and make the reader care about the narrator. And unless the narrator has a gun in his mouth, you probably won’t be interested. You don’t have to have someone in such dire straits to get your money for  nothing and your beginning for free. You do need tension and suspense or provoke interest, as  Knight confirms, “The opening must establish character, setting, situation, the mood and tone of the story; it must provoke interest, arouse curiosity, suggest conflict, start the movement of the plot—all this in about two hundred words.”

What do you think? What makes a good beginning?



One thought on “The First Rule of Beginning a Story . . .

  1. I’ve actually always preferred being dumped right into the action. I read so much, that I need a book to grab me right away or the writer risks losing me to some other distraction. I don’t care about the protagonist’s home, family, clothing, or irritation at driving to work until you give me an idea of the action that’s going to happen.

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